Thirty years after narrowly missing out on a publishing contract, Khan Wong is publishing the project of his dreams. His science fiction–fantasy debut, The Circus Infinite (Angry Robot, Mar. 2022), a space opera inspired by his time as part of a California circus act, tells the story of a found family of superpowered interspecies queer circus performers fighting the nefarious crime boss who controls their lives. Wong talked with PW about the importance of found families, queer characters who aren’t defined by their queerness, and speculative fiction that isn’t centered on war.
You missed out on a publishing opportunity in the ’90s. How did that experience inspire The Circus Infinite?
Shortly after, I got sucked into Burning Man culture, a kind underground circus scene in the Bay Area, which was really thriving in the late ’90s and the early aughts. I did that for a while, performed and toured. That’s what inspired me to write a circus book when I picked up writing again in 2017. I was like, “I want to write a queer story and I want to write a circus story and I want to write a space opera—which one do I do?” Then it occurred to me: what if they were all the same book?
Why this book and why now?
I wanted to write space opera that’s not about war. I wrote this book last year. Because of everything that was going on, I decided to lean into escapism. I wanted to write something escapist and fluffy, but the book turned out not to be as fluffy as I set it out to be.
How do you see depictions of queerness and queer experience changing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror?
I feel like there’s more openness to characters from these backgrounds and on this subject matter in general. I’m writing the kinds of stories I want to see, where the marginalization is not the focus of the story. It’s the character who just happens to be queer or happens to be whatever. Just like cishet white folks have been forever. If the story is not about identity, the characters must be cishet white. If the characters are not cishet white, the story must be about that identity. I want to push against that.
Found family is integral to The Circus Infinite. What motivated you to focus on this theme?
Found family is one of my favorite tropes. Circuses—and any kind of performance troupe—when they really gel, there is a feeling of family that comes about. I didn’t have a horrible family background, but I’m not super-close to my blood relatives. The people I consider my family in this world are not blood relations, for the most part, so I wanted to write something reflected that element of my lived experience.